The elements of penalizing a child for bad behavior can best be be explored studying our countries’ trends along with the broader world-wide historic perspective. The specific practice of corporal punishment and its role in child rearing can be divided into two broad groups; those parents who use a rod, belt, paddle, switch, (hand) vs. the side who feel corporal punishment is verboten, forbidden, and a future crime. Not much middle ground. Within our culture, I read the polarizing meter to register enthusiastic if not zealous opinions. It’s starting to become a political and religious issue, much like its distant cousins abortion and homosexuality. Sadly the three have nothing else in common.
“Spare the rod and spoil the child” is the catchphrase of the pro-CP argument, which is an attempt to connect biblical doctrine to this practice; it has been ordained to originate in the bible. Truly, the phrase is based on a 17th century poem. The bible does reference discipline and punishment primarily in the book of Proverbs, where King Soloman is quoted numerous times of disciplining his son. Ironically, Rehoboam, the son, who succeeded Solomon to the throne, was a total failure as a ruler. As to whether Soloman meant discipline and punishment to be corporal, well that’s anyone’s guess. We do know the setting to be in about 1000BC and the language Hebrew.
The conservative bible interpreter would better be served with a more recent verse, Hebrews 12:6-7:
“…because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and punishes everyone he accepts as a son. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by the father?”
This passage is written in Greek and has been said to be the most well-written and polished book in the bible. One could argue either way as to what is implied by “discipline.” Whether discipline and punishment refer to corporal punishment towards children as recent day conservative ideology suggest is not really the true point. The real question is: why would we physically discipline children and have laws protecting criminals guilty of heinous crimes? In all societies, babies and children are sacred…universally. Is this a case for man’s inhumanity to man— or the exception which proves the rule?
Spanking is using the hand as the instrument to inflict the blow for CP. When a tool is used, it would best be labeled a whipping or paddling. Laws differentiate between the two, both in this country and abroad. Internationally, corporate punishment is outlawed in schools in about 70 countries. In the USA, “red” states generally allow paddling and “blue” states prohibit it in schools. In my home state of Texas, almost 50,000 children were disciplined in schools. Nation-wide over 200,000 children were paddled. Europe, Northern Africa, and New Zealand have laws that prohibit corporate punishment at home and at school.
Experts tell us that CP to a child might be successful in the short run in changing negative behavior. Long term it is more likely to accomplish:
- bullying other children
- being aggressive
- behavioral problems
- fearing his or her parents
- poor self-esteem
- thinking that hitting is okay
I think that CP has evolved from the fact that it is a quick short-cut and avoidance towards a more fruitful strategy. To change negative behavior in children it takes a slower process and a more thought-out strategy. It involves a lot of communication skills with both partners consistent with expectations and the consequences of actions. The important initial step are rules and limits; concepts that children need to be aware of at a young age. The penalties or ramifications can be: positive reinforcement, taking away privileges, restrictions, time-out, and counseling.
Parents need to take the time to protect their largest investment. Protection means to keep one from harm. Why harm someone physically in an desperate attempt to control their actions? If your child is more cunning and intelligent than you, seek out assistance, or better still educate yourself as to a more effective means than the one you might have inherited from your parents. The argument “I was spanked and I came out OK” is based in shame and delivered out of loyalty for the sake of parental love. What mountains you might have climbed if not for the scars of hurt? The circle needs to be unbroken, soon… yesterday.
Our country needs to restrain from utilizing theological doctrine (or at least an interpretation of such) in making child-rearing decisions. Would I use the bible as a resource book if I wanted to tune-up my car? Would it be the source of reference for an improved diet? Or a first aid manual? Are we making the same mistake that certain Muslim factions make in their interpretation of scriptures and subsequent condolence of violence against the Western world and prosperity? There is a reason we have more people incarcerated in this country than anywhere else in the world. Are some of us inadvertly training our children to be criminals?
The bible is an excellent guidebook concerning moral, spiritual, and ethical behavior, but it is not a history of the world. Nor is it a manual for child-rearing. We need to look at concrete statistics and exercise common sense when it comes to considering corporal punishment. My reasoning ability tells me that it is just wrong to strike a child. I understand that Jesus was (and is) the Prince of Peace. I cannot visualize an image of him striking a child. Listen to your conscious closely, not a misquote from a English poet. The cycle of violence needs to be broken- not the skin of an innocent child’s buttocks. Justification and legality for an action doesn’t make it proper.